BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – Kei Nishikori showed he was back to his best form as he downed Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov 7-5, 7-5 to reach the semifinals of the Brisbane International on Thursday.
Nishikori proved too consistent for the Bulgarian in a high-quality match, securing crucial breaks at 5-5 in both sets.
Afterward, the 29-year-old said his goal was to get back into the top five after seeing his ranking plummet to 39 in April last year due to persistent injuries.
“I’m trying to go top five, that’s my next goal,” Nishikori said.
“The last couple of months of last year I was playing great tennis and I think I’m doing that now, this week.”
The match was a replay of the 2017 final, won by Dimitrov in three sets.
But Nishikori turned the tables this year by returning the Bulgarian’s serve superbly throughout, putting Dimitrov under pressure at key moments and showing fight to come back from 1-4 down in the second set.
“I was expecting to go to a third set — he started playing better and I was down 4-1,” Nishikori said.
“But I think the last couple of games I played very solid and I’m very happy.”
He will now play France’s Jeremy Chardy for a place in Sunday’s final and will go into the match as a firm favorite following Chardy’s three-set struggle over qualifier Yasutaka Uchiyama.
Uchiyama, 26, had only won one match on the main ATP Tour before this week and pulled off a massive upset when he beat third seed Kyle Edmund in the second round.
Chardy was not as sharp as he was during his win over Nick Kyrgios on Wednesday and was forced to battle for over two hours before beating Uchiyama 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4).
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took advantage of Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal with a straight sets win over lucky loser Taro Daniel.
Tsonga underwent knee surgery in April 2018 and missed seven months of tennis, slipping to a world ranking of 239 at the year’s end.
He was due to face Nadal in the second round but when the Spaniard withdrew with a thigh strain, Daniel came in as a replacement.
Tsonga saw off Daniel’s challenge to win 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 and record his first back-to-back victories since last February.
“It was, of course, one of my goals to be able to play two matches in a row,” he said.
“Now the new goal is going to be to win three matches in a row and be able to stay healthy.”
Tsonga will play rising Australian star Alex de Minaur in the quarterfinals.
In Doha, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic won another grueling battle on Thursday to continue his unbeaten start to the year and progress to the Qatar Open semifinals.
The Serb came from a set down, just like in his previous match, to beat Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a match lasting almost two hours.
Djokovic will play Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in Friday’s semifinal, who beat three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka in straight sets 6-4, 6-4.
And, ominously, for his opponents said he still has plenty of room for improvement.
“I feel I have a gear or two (to go) up still,” said Djokovic.
“Under the circumstances I managed to find a way to win against a player that is hitting the ball very fast and just being very aggressive and it’s hard to predict where the ball is going to go with a player like him.”
It was the first time Djokovic has won back-to-back matches from a set down since Cincinnati in August of last year, a tournament he went on to win.
As on the previous evening, where he struggled against Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics, the Serb started slowly.
He lost his first service game and never recovered the break as Basilashvili, the No. 5 seed, powered by a blistering forehand took the first set.
However, Djokovic’s fortunes changed in the second set when he broke the Georgian in the fifth game and slowly took control of the match.
Also through to the semifinals is Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic who brushed aside France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert, one of the surprises of the tournament, 6-2, 6-4.
Berdych is a former finalist in Doha, losing in 2015 to David Ferrer.
The last semifinal spot went to Italy’s Marco Cecchinato who beat Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 7-6 (7-2), 6-2.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5